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Friday March 31st, 2023

Sacked Sri Lanka scientist says organic push needs evidence-based path

FARMING: A paddy farmer preparing a field on May 10 amid a curfews. Agriculture is expected to be almost normal.

ECONOMYNEXT – A top Sri Lanka agricultural scientist who was sacked for publicly raising concerns over a sudden agro-chemical ban said a change of course is needed to avoid a worsening crisis in agriculture which could undermine food security.

Professor Buddhi Marambe, 59, the top advisor on agriculture, was sacked from all his government positions after his criticism of the ban, the Agricultural ministry said in a statement on Tuesday (26).

“We have spoken based on science. Without going for evidence-based decisions, nothing will go right,” Marambe, who is also a senior professor at the agricultural faculty of the University of Peradeniya, told Economy Next on Wednesday.

“Their push is on the correct path. But modality they have planned could lead to a situation where you can’t think of a recovery,” he said, referring to the government’s overnight ban on chemical fertilizers.

He headed the advisory committee to formulate the national agricultural policy, which has been already submitted to the government.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April banned all the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides when the entire country was not ready to adapt only organic agriculture.

The administration has said chemicals were triggering non-communicable disease including kidney disease and the move would to save around 200 million dollars spent on imports.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Association, an influential group in policy in recent years, has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, ancient Sri Lankans lived for 140 years, when there were no agro-chemicals.

However, as farmers protests grew and scientists warned of a looming disaster, the government has relaxed a part of the fertilizer ban.

Some rural farmers have already decided not to cultivate Sri Lanka staple rice in the ongoing ‘Maha’ cultivation season because of the government failure to provide necessary fertilizers.

Marambe, a former Dean of Agriculture Faculty at University of Peradeniya had been warning in recent newspaper articles that an overnight shift to organic fertiliser could lead to crop declines that in turn cause huge food shortages within months.

He cautioned that a crop failure would force the government to import food at a time when money printing has created a forex shortage.

In an article titled “A tragedy of relying on misinformation”, he said Sri Lanka is likely to import a major portion of basic food needs, such as rice, adding to external woes and reducing domestic generation of value.

“If I don’t speak out, I will also be responsible for the decline in agriculture in the future,” Marambe said

“They need to correct the course immediately. Do not forget, food security is national security. We should never tolerate any action that negatively affects our food security.”

Sri Lanka in 2005 started subsidizing fertilizer as a vote-buying gimmick promoting over-use and blocking farmers from moving on to modern more efficient nutrient application and the use of micro-nutrients.

Agriculture officials have pointed out that fertilizer themselves are not poisonous but quality has to be controlled to make sure there are no contaminants and pesticide use is globally governed by standards on residues which are revised based on available evidence.

Sri Lanka has seen a gradual decline in evidenced based policy making, where, green papers, white papers, expert consultation and public consultation had been replaced by ‘policy-by-manifesto’ and special interests which are enforced by midnight gazette, critics have said. (COLOMBO, October 27, 2021)

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Sri Lanka tax hike: no response from president, professionals to discuss next steps

GMOA Secretary Haritha Alutghe

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s trade unions and professional associations who have been agitating against an International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed progressive tax hike will meet to discuss further union action after a letter to the president went unanswered.

Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) secretary Dr Haritha Aluthge told reporters on Friday March 31 that the unions will meet as the self-styled Professionals’ Trade Union Alliance (PTUA) collective which have so far been organising strikes and demonstrations demanding a revision of the taxes.

The PTUA has been awaiting a promised meeting with President Ranil Wickremesinghe for some days now. Aluthge previously said on Monday that if the meeting did not materialise, the unions would be compelled to go on strike.

The issue has become stagnant due to government inaction, said Aluthge at Friday’s press conference.

“The PTUA informed the president in writing yesterday for the last time to please understand the gravity of this situation and to immediately give us a meeting and present the government’s interim solution, through which the government can take measures to ease the sense of tension among professionals,” he said.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss an “interim solution” to the professionals’ grievances over the progressive income tax hike until a reported revision that’s due in six months when the country’s recently approved 17th IMF programme comes up for review.

“Sadly, there has still been no response,” the GMOA official said.

All unions and professional associations will meet Friday evening together with a number of other unions to discuss further action, he added.

The privately-owned English-language weekly newspaper The Sunday Times reported on March 26 that the IMF had indicated the possibility of revising some of the taxes imposed as part of the IMF’s staff-level agreement with Sri Lanka when the programme comes up for review in six months.

According to the newspaper, IMF officials had conveyed this to representatives of trade unions during a virtual roundtable held last Friday March 24. The virtual meeting was held on the initiative of the IMF and was attended by trade unions and professional associations representing the PTUA including the GMOA. (Colombo/Mar31/2023)

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Sri Lankan transport associations cut haulage and transportation fees after fuel price cut

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka Association of Container Transporters and fuel bowser owners has decided to reduce the haulage charges and transportation fee, after the government cut the auto diesel prices by 80 rupees, association officials said.

“Due to the recent reduction in Auto Diesel price from March30, 2023, the committee has decided to reduce haulage charges by 7 percent,” association said.

Sri Lanka Private Petroleum Tanker owners has also decided to reduce the transportation fee of fuel by 8 -10 percent from April onwards.

“We will be meeting with the association members and will be deciding on exactly how much we will be reducing,” the General Secretary of the association Nimal Amarasekera told EconomyNext.

“We hope to reduce it by 8-10 percent and will be applied.”

Meanwhile United Lanka Fuel Transport Bowser Owners Association said, the price reduction will be done, and the specific amount will be calculated using the cost per kilometer for a transporting bowser.

“We have different types of bowsers such as 13,200 litre and 19,800 litre likewise,” Association President K.W. Charles told EconomyNext.

“So the cost per kilometer per bowser is different and after we calculate only we can give a specific percentage.

“It will come to effect from this month and the payments for the next month will be based on the new prices.”

Charles said, this is only based on the price reduction of fuel, however several costs as maintenance and spare part costs should also be considered when deciding the transportation cost, which is also being discussed with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

Sri Lanka slashed fuel prices with effect from Wednesday (29) midnight, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said, after a protest by trade unions of state-run fuel retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) resulting in queues at filling stations due to supply disruption.

The price of Petrol 92 Octane will be slashed by 15 percent or 60 rupees to 340, Petrol 95 Octane 95 will be reduced by 26.5 percent or 135 rupees to 375, Auto Diesel by 19.8 percent or 80 rupees to 325, and kerosene by 3.3 percent or 10 rupees to 295. (Colombo/ March31/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s shares edge up in mid day trade

Stock Market. Free public domain CC0 image.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged up in mid day trade on Friday, Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) data showed.

All Share Price Index was up 1.09 percent or 100.69 points to 9,329.19, while the most liquid index was up 1.23 percent or 32.86 points to 2,697.12.

The market generated a turnover of 895 million rupees.

Top gainers during mid day trade were Commercial Bank, Hatton National Bank and Expolanka. (Colombo/Mar31/2023)


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